Calliope: ORBIS

Sat May 24 2014

Calliope’s 2013 self-titled debut was pretty eclectic for a classic rock record. The new EP Orbis is the sophomore effort to hone the sound: with psychedelia, in this case, fuzzy synths and reverb and layers of sound. So, you don’t get the occasional jam-band tendencies or the White Denim-esque prog/folk tunes or the countryish stompers that coexisted on the first album. But do you miss those things?

For better or worse, vocalist Al Kraemer still sounds an awful lot like Jim Morrison, to the point where it would be irresponsible not to mention it. Can he help it? Well, he probably could if he tried, but most singers sound increasingly shitty as they try to veer away from what comes naturally, so I have a hard time blaming him on this score. If he was a shitty singer, that would be different, but he most definitely is not that.

The new focus on his keyboards, however, adds to the overall Doorsness of the sound, particularly in "Guns" and "The King", and that he could help. The main problem is that the keys frequently sound a bit thrift-shoppy, which doesn't blend well with the rich guitar tones, nor the overall style of the music. This is no genre to be partially lo-fi in. On the otherwise driving rocker "Casino", the synth is barely audible for most of the song, buzzing high up in the left speaker, way down in the mix. The intro bit is fine, but honestly, this song doesn't want a synth in it. It's a droney psych-rock barnburner. Let it be one.

Much of this can probably be chalked up to the production, but it's not that bad; it just sounds like it was recorded in a Northwoods cabin, which it reportedly was. Actually, it kind of works in "Iron Hand", the excellent slow-burning closing track. But even if Orbis could've benefited from some engineering expertise, the strength of the songs shines through (except maybe "The King", the equivalent of the first album's awesome blues-rock belter "La Catalina" but not quite as engaging). The highlight, without question, is the title track; this brazen multi-phase garage epic (we're talking 5:22) has everything you could want in a rock and roll song, from the grating to the blissful and back again. This song will be included on every mixtape I make for months.

If there's still room in the world for stadium-sized big-rock ambition, it might as well be psychedelic. Bask in the riffs. See the band in a dark room. If you're into that sort of thing I'm pretty sure they'll win you over.

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